What does not change is the will to change.
– Charles Olson
Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces describes the archetypal hero’s journey. In it, Campbell distills the wisdom of a collection of myths, folktales, and dreams that spans human history. He breaks it down into a succession of discrete stages. Some of these include: 1) A call to action, which begins the adventure; 2) being transported to an alien environment, where many trials are faced and endured; 3) obtaining some kind of boon, which may or may not have been the apparent goal at the start; 4) struggling back to the world from which the hero came, boon intact; and 5) delivering the boon to the world, a treasure which the hero could not have obtained without enduring every step of the journey. Through his struggles, the hero is transformed from an ordinary person into something larger. This story is played out in every action /adventure movie ever shown, and it is also renacted in our own lives. (For more details, see the Wikipedia discussion of Campbell’s book.)
I believe most of us are on the hero’s path. Through illness, injury, loss, misfortune, love, or merely the desire to take the risks necessary to grow, we find ourselves in an alien place, struggling with unknown forces, meeting allies and enemies, guides and tempters. We stumble and fall, lose our way, endure defeat, experience despair, but if we push on, eventually we celebrate triumphs. And through it all, we emerge transformed; regardless of whether our external goals are achieved, our internal growth can never be lost.
What seems to differentiate those who triumph from those who are defeated is that those who complete their path see the purpose of their journey and embrace it. In time, they are able to envision their destination and map their course to it. They learn to keep the vision in sight, no matter how dark things get. It is their North Star.
How do they do this? There is a grade-school riddle that provides an important part of the answer. It asks: “What is the most powerful nation in the world?” And answers: “The Imagi-nation.”
One way I help my clients traverse their hero’s journeys is to ask what solution-focused therapists call the “Miracle Question.” It goes like this:
Imagine that after you finish reading this post you go off and do whatever you do with the rest of the day. Tonight, you fall asleep. And while you’re snoozing, a strange thing happens. The strange thing is that… a miracle occurs! The miracle is a very special one, tailored just to you. The miracle is that all your problems are solved and all your concerns are gone. Poof! But the thing is, the miracle happened while you were asleep, so you don’t know anything about it. When you wake up tomorrow, you are solidly in the world of the miracle, but initially you are unaware that it has occurred. So the first part of the Miracle Question is: Tomorrow morning, when you wake up and as you step through the day, what do you notice — in yourself, in your surroundings, in other people — that eventually gets you scratching your head, thinking, “Something’s different about today. A miracle must have happened!”
The “Miracle Question” is based on the principle that we have the answers to our questions and can find our own solutions. It’s a way to envision, while awake but in a kind of self-induced light trance, what life will be like, in specific detail, when all our problems are solved. Some questions to ask yourself, after asking the Miracle Question:
How do I feel when I open my eyes?
Am I in the same bedroom? The same house? With the same people?
What’s different as I get ready for the day?
What’s different as I walk through it, hour by hour?
What do other people in my life notice about me that’s different?
What do I notice about them?
From the answers to these questions, a vision of life with all the problems
solved is built. Then it’s just a matter of working toward that “miracle,”
one doable step at a time.
Asking yourself this question is akin to the call to adventure of the hero’s journey. It will take you into new territory, and there you will likely encounter struggles you might not otherwise have had to endure. But it is also the first step to finding your personal boon, and to making your miracle your reality.
What will you notice tomorrow, when you find yourself in your miracle world?
I’m interested in hearing your answers to the Miracle Question. I’ve set up an area of the Art, Healing, and Transformation group (for anyone who dares!) for your responses.
This is the first of three parts of the Miracle Question. Stay tuned for the next installment, in which you’ll learn how to find out where you are, right now, in your particular journey, and how to get to the next step toward your miracle.
© 2007, David J. Bookbinder